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Are You Paying Too Much for Your Airline Tickets?

by on April 30, 2013

airline tickets

You wouldn’t spend ten bucks on bag of chips or throw down fifty for a latte, so what explains our willingness to pay top dollar for the privilege of sitting in a flying metal tube bound for Detroit? Airline tickets are always going to be expensive, but if you’ve ever spent an afternoon hitting the refresh button on a deals site, you know that ticket prices do fluctuate. While this ebb and flow might look random, it’s not, and if you know what you’re doing you can exploit the system to get a deal that makes you feel good. Of course, as with anything, to formulate a plan you’ll need to ask the right questions. You’ve probably asked them before, but now it’s time for some answers.

Should I wait or buy now?

Tickets go on sale 330-350 days before departure, but if you buy that early you’re not going to save. Airlines know that a few of those early seats are going to be snatched up no matter what, and so across the industry, algorithms conspire to set a competitive ceiling. A full year out from your departure date, there’s no need to worry about missing your tropical vacation, so you’ll want to wait a bit. How long? To answer that you’ll need to look at data from the past.

According to CheapAir CEO Jeff Klees, the best time to buy a ticket in 2012 for domestic flights was 49 days in advance, or seven weeks, while international flyers had the best deals when buying their tickets 81 days ahead of take-off. Wait any longer than this and you’re gambling with your money, because as Kayak’s Sarah Mitchell reminds us, prices skyrocket during the two weeks leading up to a flight. While it’s true that discount travel companies like Priceline, CheapAir, Hotwire and Orbitz offer last-minute deals for procrastinators, it’s impossible to say which destinations, airlines and prices will be available during those super sales.

What day of the week should I fly?

People like to fly on the weekends. It’s less stressful, and it doesn’t interfere with work. Unfortunately, the airlines are well aware of this, and so they charge more for weekend flights. What this means is that there’s just no workaround for this one, unless you’re willing to roll the dice on a last-minute deal. Plan your trip so that you’re flying during the middle of the week. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays will always feature the lowest rates.

What day of the week should I buy my ticket?

Is there an actual “best day of the week” to buy tickets? According to a recent FareCompare study, the answer is yes – and maybe there’s even a “best minute.”

New deals hit the boards on Monday evenings. By Tuesday afternoon, the other airlines will have matched those offers. Those flights will typically be available by 3:00 p.m. on Tuesdays, and we think that this little piece of intel is pretty interesting. If you hate the stress of hunting for bargains online, just set your phone to remind you when it’s time to start looking.

Getting nickeled and dimed is manageable when we’re talking coffee or ranch dressing, but with airfare it’s a different story. So get to work. Armed with your new knowledge, this time you’ll be able to save significant money on your plane tickets, and that means more vacation-time fun.

What are the best airfare deals you’ve found? Do you wait or buy early? Let us know in the comments below so that we can all enjoy a great summer vacation without breaking the bank.

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